By Luke Holmes
Good neighbors are hard to come by, but I was lucky to have one in Jerry. He lived next door to the parsonage when we moved in and was quick to come over and introduce himself and his wife.
He loved to play golf, take care of his yard, and work in his garden. Gardening was one of his big passions. He had a large spot cleared where he grew all the staples of a retiree’s garden: things like tomatoes, squash, okra, green beans, and more. And he was always glad to share them with others.
Too many times to count he showed up at the door with a bag full of fresh-picked produce. He shared at church, with all the neighbors, and even with the nursing home. He put in the work and let others enjoy the fruits (or vegetables) of his labor.
We had been neighbors for a few years when his wife got ill and passed away. Jerry still did those things he loved to do, but when I talked to him it didn’t seem like his heart was in it as much.
His health began to fail, too. His yard wasn’t as neat as it used to be, but he still kept up with his garden. In spring he planted his staples: tomatoes, okra, peppers, and a few others. Over the summer he had a heart attack and went to live with his son. He passed away eventually, and that summer his family, friends, and church mourned the loss.
Life went on though. I had to see his house everyday. Days and then weeks passed after his death, and I noticed something happen. Long after his death, his garden kept growing. Without his care there were more weeds than normal, but the tomatoes plumped and turned red, the okra grew longer, and the watermelons ripened.
As summer turned into fall and then headed toward winter the garden kept growing. Before the first frost my children and I gathered several baskets of produce from his garden, and so did the kitchen director from the nursing home behind his house.
Even though Jerry was no longer alive, his garden kept growing.
I probably don’t have to draw the connection for you. All of us are planting gardens as we go through life, and those gardens continue to grow after we’re gone. I reap daily the harvest of people who planted in my life, even though they’ve been gone from this life for decades or more.
People planted encouragement, kindness, hope, and trust in my life as a child and a teen. Year after year, I harvest the fruit of their labor, long after they’re gone from my life. In God’s good mercy, the effects of our lives can be felt long after we’re gone.
It’s true of both the good things and bad things of life. We sadly also feel the negative effects of sin in our lives long after those who sinned against us are gone.
Many people are familiar with the fruit of the Spirit Paul presents in Galatians 5. When we live by the Spirit this fruit grows not only for our benefit, but also for others. In fact, most of the list of fruit can only be displayed with other people. Love, kindness, and gentleness all need another person to be demonstrated fully.
When the Holy Spirit works in our lives, it’s not just for our benefit, but for those around us, too. And the benefits of God’s work in us lasts long after we leave this life.
Last spring Jerry went out to plant a garden like he always did. He didn’t know it would be his last time to plant, and he didn’t know he wouldn’t get to see the full harvest. As you go through life and plant seeds of goodness, kindness, mercy, and grace in the lives of people, you never know when God will call you home.
You don’t know when the last planting of your garden will be. You might not get to see the results of it either, but you can be sure your life will bear fruit long after you’re gone.
Plant things that matter, things like the goodness and mercy of God. When we plant in the lives of others through discipleship, family, and church community we are continuing the work of those who planted in us.
And when that harvest is reaped, all the glory will go to God, who keeps the garden growing even after our lives are over.
LUKE HOLMES (@lukeholmes) is husband to Sara, father to three young girls, and pastor at First Baptist Church Tishomingo, Oklahoma since 2011. He’s a graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and can be found online at LukeAHolmes.com.